As part of Gita Yatra, a team of 35 Gitamritam students visited Adi Shankaracharya’s birthplace in Veliyanadu, Piravam, Ernakulam Dt, Kerala and few temples on the way on 3rd Nov 2019
5:27 a.m sharp had been the orders. And so gathered the pilgrims in a bus which was filled with a bubbling excitement for the journey to be made and a few sleepy yawns. The explorers had set off on a journey like no other.
The mood was solemn. The sincere students understood the gravity of their quest as Dhyanji explained the need for introspection and reflection that this pilgrimage should awaken within us. Because such a journey was an opportunity that few get. And before long, we had reached our first stop.
The Poonithura Kottaram Sri Krishna temple has a beautiful story associated with it that connects it to the Poornatrayeesha Temple in Tripunithura. Here we had the honour of meeting Sri. MRS Menon and his wife Tankamani who narrated the story as well as educated us on the flourishing cultural heritage of Tripunithura. Lord Vishnu had given Arjuna an idol to worship and he had asked for Sri Ganesha’s help to find a suitable spot. At Poonithura, he had opened his pooni (containment of arrows) and let go of an arrow to the east in Tripunithura where the idol was ultimately placed. Thus, the idol from Sree Poornatrayeesa Temple is brought to Poonithura for two days of worship in every year during the Malayalam month, Kumbam.
At Tripunithara, we were able to inspect closely, the historic gopurams, stages where classical recitals are held during utsavam and even the temple kitchen and dining hall! The ancient grounds of this divine temple and the sanctified atmosphere had refreshed us, as we stepped back into the bus, to visit the divine mother at her abode in the famous Chottanikkara Bhagavathy temple. But first, we had to have some breakfast!
Much different from the serene Tripunithura, was the charged ambience of the Devi temple, as crowds of devotees were visiting to get a glance of the idol who is the Divine Mother known as Rajarajeswari (Adiparasakthi) and is worshipped here in three forms Saraswathy in the morning, Lakshmi at noon and Durga in the evening. Many come with reverential offerings to Devi to remove their afflictions. We walked around the temple and listened to the many tales associated with it as well as meditated in the divine presence for a while. Soon, we were on our way to visit the life of a great mahatma.
Sri Shankara’s birthplace
And so we reached the ancestral home of Aryamba, mother of Jagatguru Sri Sankaracharya traditionally known as the Melpazhur Mana. This traditional home was a wonder of architecture as well as symbolic of the beautiful ancient culture that permeated the very fabric of life. We were lead by Dhyanji and Swami Sharadananda from Chinmaya mission who explained to us every subtle meaning hidden in the architecture and iconography of the home. So practically built, it showed the spiritual way of life. The four wings of the house, symbolic of the four purusharthas– dharma, artha, kama and moksha faced each other- calling for the balance that must be maintained in life. It had eleven doors representing the navadwaras and two symbolic of those that are closed- bhramarandhra and nabhi– that opened to the inner courtyard known as Nalukettu. The low doors were meant to instil humility and reverence to the house as a temple. And the carvings at the entrance of the home showed divinity as sakshi(witness) to material and spiritual progress.
The house had many rooms – dining room, kitchen with water well attached, a place to perform daily puja, guest room, theatre area, the place for mothers, arrangements for bathing the babies, and a toilet attached bedroom for the elder member of the family!! Even without a fan or any other apparatus, we were feeling like in an air-conditioned place. The light and air circulation were very precisely organised.
We saw the room Sri Shankara was born, did arati to his small statue and meditated for a few minutes. The feeling and the vibes of that room is unexplainable. In the pooja room a book – Complete Veda – is kept and worshipped now.
Swami Sharadananda also gave an enlightening talk on the life and message of Adi Shankara, clearing the doubts of many students and also helping us interpret Sri Shankara’s life in the modern era. He inspired us to r member, that instead of thinking that the goal is unachievable, we must follow in the footsteps of Mahatmas. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? Not only did he pursue the path to Realisation, he tirelessly worked to spread the message and relieve the world from worldly sorrows!
Next on the itinerary was another spot related to the life story of Sri Shankara, at the Amalaka Lakshmi temple. The legend says that young Shankara had gone to alms, after upanayana ceremony. Lady of the house only had a small amalaka fruit to give. Touched by her sincerity, he invoked goddess Lakshmi with the Kanakadhara stotra, who showered golden amalaka into the home. After offering our prayers at the holy site, we rushed to the bus as a drizzle had set in. With heads bent with gratitude to the mahatma, we explored the premises of his home, which he had left at the tender age of 8, in search of Realisation.
The sun had set, and the students had reached their penultimate destination, Kalady. We visited the temple to Devi Sharda, the household goddess and temples of Sri Krishna and Lord Ganesha. To our delight, we were able to also see the point, which is said to be where Adi Shankara had changed the course of river Purna, so as to make it easily accessible for his mother Aryamba. This was also the place where he had done his mother’s funeral rites.
Their was one more surprise in store. We got off under the looming Sri Adi Shankara Keerthi Sthamba, an eight-story tower, which shows the life of Bhagawan through relief paintings as one goes up. Young Shankara, caught in the jaws of a crocodile as he asks for his mother’s blessings to become a sannyasi. Walking 2000 kilometres to reach his guru Govindapada, by the banks of river Narmada in central India. By the age of 16, he had finished writing his commentaries on all major treatises. From then on, till the age of 32, he travelled the length and breadth of ancient India- spreading the message of the Vedas and lifting the masses from the darkness of superstition and scriptural misinterpretations. He proclaimed the message of Brahman, the absolute reality and established four maths in the four corners of Bharat to maintain each Veda for all posterity. He reorganised the sannyasi into ten groups and composed 72 devotional and meditative hymns!
One cannot fathom a life so extraordinary. We were left in awe. To have had the honour to retrace the steps of Sri Shaannkara’s life, from his birth and childhood to his final days until he left his body at the young age of 32!
On our way back, we all narrated our experiences and observations from the trip as well as quietly meditated upon the day in gratitude. We all might have stepped into the bus together but none of us stepped out the same. It was a journey of each pilgrim, each student, to understanding his own true nature. And while they said their goodbyes, they were filled with bubbling excitement, an excitement at the beginning of a quest for the Self. For the explorers had embarked on a journey that hadn’t ended yet. A journey within.